An interesting phenomena I’ve noticed with the human race is when someone takes a “road less traveled”, or makes a significant change, we have the wonderful tendency of doing two things:



  1. ridiculing them and pointing out how crazy, unusual and stupid these actions are because they are different; and/or
  2. once we see the possible benefits of this unusual behavior, point out how it was somehow “easier” for that person to take these risks than us.

I jest and exaggerate a tinch, a smidge if you will, but I want us to consider our definition of risk, our approach to risk, and what we consider “risky”. I want to challenge our definition of “safer”. We often hold back on making a change until there is catastrophic event that forces us to do something. We’re then forced into a reactive mode, which takes away our power. We’re never guaranteed success, but reevaluating how we define success and failure can be so empowering.

“Most success springs from an obstacle or failure. I became a cartoonist largely because I failed in my goal of becoming a successful executive.”
– Scott Adams, Creator of “Dilbert”

Thanks for being here, let’s consider a few things on risk.

“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows no victory nor defeat.”
– Theodore Roosevelt



“Courage isn’t the absence of fear,
it is wetting your pants and doing it anyway.”


Risk (defined by Webster’s dictionary 1. the possibility of suffering harm or loss; danger 2. a factor, element or course involving uncertain danger; hazard.

We often operate under the assumption that an action is risky when we’re taking some action. Most often, we consider “safe” actions, playing it safe, taking the safe route, the true and tried route, as those that involves not making a change, doing what’s always been done, doing what everyone else is doing, when you know the outcome. We make these assumptions and use these assumptions to guide our actions and decisions. I think these assumptions are costly.

We’ve gotten almost arrogant in our risk analysis by making the assumption that what you’re currently doing = the safest, smartest thing to be doing. We keep this as a working assumption often until we’re met with some catastrophic event to throw us headfirst into the realization that something needs to change. Same = right and safe until proven horribly not. So much is lost in approaching things that way (jobs, relationships, customers, lives, health). When forced to change, we’re thrown into a reactive mode where a fraction of our true strength and ability is used, and our focus is on survival rather than thriving.

What I challenge you to consider, is that we’d be wonderfully well served to concentrate and hone our talents at evaluating the consequences of NOT taking an action, making a change or going outside the norm. Just because no action has been taken and no decision has been made doesn’t = no risk!

“If you choose not to decide,
you still have made a choice.”

– Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart of Rush

I remember when a friend, ok…relative, ok…you beat it out of me, my brother, Paul, had worked hard and landed a great, “safe” corporate job at Bell Labs, but wanted to make a change. Actually he wanted to go to Squaw Valley for a few months to bartend and ski and then get a job out West. Many “helpful types” immediately went to work helping him “evaluate the huge risk” of his actions, which, as we do, was defined by pointing out all the things that were wrong with this move and what could happen (you’ll never get another job as great as this, you won’t be able to pay your bills, no one will hire someone that took time off, etc.). What wasn’t considered in the “risk analysis” was the price of not making the move of staying the same (not learning new skills, quality of life, breadth of experience with different companies, etc.).

Again it’s assumed if we’re somewhere and it’s not horribly broken, it’s working. Paul has since worked for Microsoft (this little company that has potential), Adobe, firms in Manhattan, climbed mountains in the West, ran the New York Marathon (the list goes on, I’m biased, I brag). Things he very well wouldn’t have done without making the difficult decision.

“Always listen to experts.
They’ll tell you what can’t be done and why.
Then do it.”

– Robert Heinlein, Writer

The point is…yes, any risk needs to be evaluated, planned for, and thought out. But we also need to redefine what we consider risky and also factor in the consequences of doing nothing, getting locked in sameness. We often concentrate on what could happen, why things may not work and what the possible consequences are of taking a certain action. We’re masters at it. How often do we single out those who haven’t made a move those who stay the same, those who follow the norm with the same scrutiny?

Another great, high-stakes example of where the true risk would have been if the “standard” approach had been taken, involved Lockheed Martin, highlighted in Fast Company’s May edition years ago, High Stakes, Big Bets. To quote the article, “Tom Burbage and his 500-person team at Lockheed Martin went after the biggest military deal in U.S. history — and scored a $200 billion victory: a contract to build the Joint Strike Fighter. They didn’t play it safe…they played to win!

Lockeed, in the project of a lifetime took huge risks, such as partnering with the “enemy”, designing their plane—not based on the input from the ones with the biggest pocketbook—but the biggest passion, among others. Again, many said they were crazy because of how it couldn’t work out. But look at how it did…$200 BILLION dollars isn’t exactly chump change! How much would it have been scrutinized if they had taken the “traditional” path? And what would the risks really have been there?

“Aim for success, not perfection. Never give up your right to be wrong, because then you will lose the ability to learn new things and move forward with your life. Remember that fear always lurks behind perfectionism. Confronting your fears and allowing yourself the right to be human can, paradoxically, make yourself a happier and more productive person.”
– Dr. David M. Burns

Where do we go from here? Am I saying sameness is bad and doing things the way things have been done before is bad? NO siree boboreno!! Awareness in our approach is a huge first step. Be aware of the potential tragedy (yes, tragedy), of staying the same for the sake of it without analyzing the risk of doing so until forced to reevaluate. Anytime we’re in a situation because we’re forced to be we are at our weakest, most vulnerable and least powerful.

– Cynthia Ronan, TAP